Ways that Community Health Centers Can Increase Outreach and Enrollment

By Liz Hagan

As we’ve written about before, community health centers are integral to the enrollment effort that’s kicking off around the country in just a few short months. The Michigan Primary Care Association has put together a “playbook” that lays out, step by step, how health centers can gear up to play a major role in outreach and enrollment this fall. And the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) is making $150 million available to support health centers in this work.

The Outreach and Enrollment Playbook from Michigan Primary Care Association

Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/michiganpca/the-outreach-and-enrollment-playbook

So, what are the takeaways from the playbook?

Understand the opportunity. With health reform comes many opportunities to change the ways things have typically been done. Making sure your health center staff understands those opportunities is critical. Building a strong team that will construct a plan for increasing enrollment will help ensure that health centers are equipped to connect as many patients as possible to coverage.

Advance your operational and staffing infrastructure.

  • The Affordable Care Act can be confusing, so your staff—from front desk staff to outreach and patient coordinators to providers—will benefit from learning about aspects of the law that will affect them. It’s also important for staff to understand the various options people will have, whether it’s expanded Medicaid or financial help through premium tax credits in state health insurance marketplaces.
  • Another major factor that will help health centers meet both their mission and their bottom line is to scale up their assistance staff to make sure enough people are available to help patients when demand for enrollment assistance increases (presumably starting in October). Enroll America’s own research has found that health providers are among consumers’ most trusted sources of information. By incorporating diverse groups of people in their assistance staff, including formal assisters (like navigators and certified application counselors) and volunteers, health centers will be better able to get this done.
  • Health centers will benefit from both outreach and in-reach efforts. By beginning to collect information now, health centers can connect with their current patients (in-reach) in the future. Health centers may also find that investing in additional outreach staff ends up paying for itself (see our previous blog post here). The additional revenue that’s generated by connecting patients to coverage adds up quickly. For example, it is estimated that, on average, the value of connecting one health center patient to Medicaid (as opposed to letting him or her continue as a self-paying patient) is about $490. This number will only multiply with more successful outreach and enrollment efforts.

Break down barriers. Think deliberately about barriers that exist within your organization. For example, language barriers, limited access to assistance, or competing priorities within the organization might make it more challenging to do enrollment well. Actively identifying these barriers is the first step in developing a strategy to overcome them.

Connect with key audiences. Know who your health center interacts and engages with most, and teach them about the new coverage options. As our research found, people generally know very little about health reform, and they are skeptical of what they do know. Raising awareness about the new options is key.

Enroll. Reinforce efforts that are made at local, state, and national levels. Patients may be more likely to enroll when they receive encouragement from those they trust, which can often be their community health centers.

Retain. Making sure patients still use the health center once they enroll in coverage is clearly in a health center’s best interest. This can be done by emphasizing the health center’s benefits: quality of care, breadth of services offered, and ties to the community.

Many of us are gearing up for open enrollment on October 1,and health centers around the country are, too. If health centers take advantage of this unique and important opportunity to get people connected to the coverage that they need, patients and health centers will benefit.

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